Wednesday, January 29, 2014

You Can Become a Millionaire if You Go into Education!

Suppose we could say to the young: “You should go into teaching. Someday, you can be a millionaire! You can be the next Nathaniel A. Davis!”

Corporate education. That’s the ticket!

Before we turn to Mr. Davis, however, we need to set the background. This week Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee offered up the latest in a long string of schemes to fix the public schools. Teachers, I imagine, might wonder, “Shouldn’t education in this country already be fixed? How many plans have politicians put forward?”

Ignore that conundrum.

Alexander was Secretary of Education under President George H. W. Bush.
(At no time in his life did he ever work in education.)
By the way:  the answer to that question was "no."

Here’s the bold new plan—not to be confused with previous bold new plans. Such as: No Child Left Behind. Mr. Alexander wants Congress to free up federal funds for 11,000,000 students from low-income families. Not new funds. No, Alexander is a fiscal hawk. His idea is to take away money the public schools receive. Then he wants to give it to parents to spend so they can enroll their children in schools of their choice. Choice! That’s what makes America great. Well, not counting parents who are gay or lesbian and might want to choose whom they marry.

Ignore that too.

What Senator Alexander wants is to divert $24 billion in funding. That’s 41% of federal dollars spent on K-12 education. Or: $2,100 per child.

Under his plan states might use the money to:

a) Help low-income students attend public schools outside their neighborhoods.
b) Fund individual scholarships to help pay private school tuition.
c) Attend charter schools, including “for profit” institutions.

Choice is cool! Like: would a member of Congress rather go to a fine restaurant with a lobbyist and eat a $150 meal? Or—since the GOP savaged the food stamp program—would a low-income person rather eat stale donuts scrounged from a dumpster?

Anyway, how would this plan work? Suppose a low-income family hopes to send a daughter to Summit Country Day High School here in Cincinnati. Let’s do the math:

Cost of attending Summit Country Day (9th grade): $19,050

Federal money available:                                              2,100

Shortfall:                                                                    $16,950

Oh, so close! Sadly, the aspiring low-income student still can’t get into the elite school and rub elbows with upper crust children. And by the way, could we not raise the minimum wage, which would be communism or something. And damn! Who thinks low-income families should be covered by health insurance!

Not Senator Alexander.

Sure. The GOP loves helping low-income children.

Or could it be that Republicans secretly hope to privatize all schools—and break up teachers’ unions as a bonus? Perhaps Republican hearts don’t pump red. Perhaps they pump green.

Here in Ohio, we know the answer. Meet David Brennan, operator of White Hat, a charter school chain with almost fifty franchises.

No, I mean schools.

Brennan cares about dollars. No, no, I mean kids. That’s why he has a $6 million mansion down in Naples, Florida. Because Brennan cares about living in lux…no, about children. He loves them so much he is willing to go out of his way to host fund-raising dinners in Florida for hard-working Ohio politicians.

Another neat White Hat trick, when franchises fail...ahem, to close them. Then they reopen with cool new names, in the same buildings, with much the same staff, so that profits for Mr. Brennan are impossible to kill. Kind of like zombies.

How does Brennan prove his love for Ohio kids? According to the Akron Beacon Journal he and his wife Ann contributed $3.8 million to fifty-one politicians between 2004 and 2012. Almost every cent went to GOP lawmakers.

Really? Why would anyone be surprised? Where education and profit clash education loses. Read up on the shyster tactics used by major for-profit colleges. Or consider the shady operations of for-profit charter school chains in Pennsylvania.

At least you’ll get a laugh for your tax dollars.

Today, however, let’s follow the money under Alexander’s plan and see where it ends. Let’s look at how K-12 Inc., a for-profit virtual education company does business. K-12 was started in 1999. Its founders were two giants in education. Okay, I’m messing with you. Founders were Michael Milken, one-time junk bond king, and Ronald Packard, a hedge fund banker.

The first chairman of the K-12 board was Bill Bennett. Like Senator Alexander, Bennett was a former U. S. Secretary of Education. But he was forced to resign in 2005 after suggesting that if you wanted to lower the U. S. crime rate you could abort every black baby. He quickly added that this would be reprehensible. Still, “your crime rate would go down.”

In other words, these are the kind of people you know are going to devote themselves to helping low-income families. In 2013, K-12 took in $848 million. And 86% ($731 million) came out of the pockets of taxpayers.

Helping children is hard. Every teacher knows. So you have to pay to keep quality employees. You have to pay Packard $19,489,223 for five years if you want to be sure he keeps helping. You have to pay his chief financial officer $3.3 million in 2013.

You need an executive chairman—a man who would never enter the field unless he was sure he could help children. And get paid $9.5 million in 2013. So let’s hear it for Nathaniel A. Davis. There’s no educator who cares more about young people than Davis does! In fact, the top eight educators at K-12 needed $21.4 million to get by just last year.

What’s the moral of this story? Obviously, Congress should listen to Senator Alexander. Federal dollars must be shoveled in this direction. We need to support the efforts of these heroes in education.

Do some math for fun:

Figure the first 1,810 children who use federal money ($2,100) will help Brennan provide fresh campaign donations to GOP politicians.

The next 2,857 will use grant money to ensure that Brennan can live in a mansion in Florida.

The next 4,524 will use their funds so that Davis can be fairly compensated in 2014.

Finally, 9,281 low-income children will use their grant money to make sure that Ronald Packard sticks around for another five years and keeps doing what he does so well.

In other words, let’s make sure Packard keeps helping kids get the best education our tax dollars can buy.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

MItt Romney Loves Communism! Huh! What?

Most people remember Mitt Romney's disastrous 47% speech during the 2012 election. One portion of the speech garnered little attention. 

Sadly, it speaks directly toward the current business mentality in America (and China) although Romney was too clueless to know it did. How did the GOP candidate explained to an audience what happened when he visited China a few years prior to purchase a factory. What did Mitt see when he journeyed deep into the heart of a communist land, hoping Bain Capital could pile up a tidy bundle? 

Transcript by Mother Jones magazine:

"And, I remember going to, ah, uh. Sorry to bore you with stories. When I was back in my private equity days, we went to China to buy a factory there. It employed about 20,000 people. And they were almost all young women between the ages of about 18 and 22 or 23. They were saving for potentially becoming married. And they were in these huge factories, they made various, uh, small appliances. And, uh, we were walking through this facility, seeing them work, the number of hours they worked per day, the pittance they earned, living in dormitories, with, uh, with little bathrooms at the end of maybe 10, 10 room, rooms. And the rooms they have 12 girls per room. Three bunks on top of each other. You've seen you've seen them."

(Someone in the audience: "Oh...yeah, yeah.")

And, and, and around this factory was a fence, a huge fence with barbed wire and guard towers. And, and, we said Gosh! I can't believe that you, you keep these girls in! They said, no, no, no. This is to keep other people from coming in. Because people want so badly to come work in this factory that we have to keep them out. Or they will just come in here and start working and, and try and get compensated. So we, this is to keep people out. And they said, actually Chinese New Year as the girls go home, sometimes they decide they've saved enough money and they don't come back to the factory. And he said, So on the weekend after Chinese New Year there will be a line of people hundreds long, outside the factory, hoping that some girls don't come back. And they can come to the factory. And, and so as we were experiencing this for the first time, going to see a factory like this in China some years ago. The Bain Partner I was with turned to me and said, You know, ninety-five percent of life is settled if you are born in America. This is, uh, this is an amazing land [the USA, he means] and what we have is unique and fortunately it is so special we are sharing it with the world."

If you prefer to listen to the tape, the discussion of China comes around the 6:52 mark:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Arne Duncan Discovers the Obvious!

Every so often, one of America’s “education leaders” gets a whiff of reality and comes briefly to his or her senses. 

This week, U S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan suddenly discovered that not all parents prefer higher standards. Duncan passed on this revelation to Thomas Friedman, editorialist for The New York Times.

Then Duncan and Friedman tipped their caps to Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World:  And How They Got That Way.

The author of this blog voted for President Obama twice and he’s still glad he did.
Unfortunately, Arne Duncan is a terrible Secretary of Education.

According to Friedman, here’s what transpired. Duncan gave a “feel bad” speech to a group of parents a few days ago. Friedman thinks President Obama should claim the speech for his own and make it his State of the Union Address. What was the problem Duncan chose to discuss before parents? Get ready teachers. You will be fainting in droves!

Harken to the Gospel of Arne:
“Are we falling behind as a country in education,” he wondered, “not just because we fail to recruit the smartest college students to become teachers or reform-resistant teachers’ unions, but because of our culture today:  too many parents and too many kids just don’t take education seriously enough and don’t want to put in the work needed today to really excel?”

Okay. Ignore the gratuitous slam directed at every teacher in the nation. (Duncan thinks we’re morons.)

Oh, yes. Remember that unions have blocked reform. That’s why reforms have failed. It’s not because the reforms have been misguided.  

Well, what does Duncan know now that he failed to grasp five years ago when he became Secretary of Education? He and Friedman now know what Ripley discovered while researching her book. And Ripley now knows what all of us teachers/morons know by…um…well…by teaching. One of these days, I need to complete a review of The Smartest Kids. The publisher sent me a copy and I admit liking it.

But could we please stop “discovering” the obvious?

Friedman  fleshes out his position with a pair of letters from actual teachers. (That alone is failry rare: an education expert quoting a real educator.) One first appeared in the Washington Post. The writer was a seventh-grade language arts teacher in Frederick, Maryland. She explained that she no longer wanted to teach. One problem was a “superficial curriculum that encouraged mindless conformity.” And who demanded that teachers follow such curriculums? That plan was foisted upon us by politicians, bureaucrats and non-teaching experts.

(People like Duncan.)

What most bothered this successful Maryland teacher was the reaction she met when she handed out low grades:
It was about this time that I was called down to the principal’s office…She handed me a list of 10 students, all of whom had D’s or F’s. At the time, I only had about 120 students, so I was relatively on par with a standard bell curve. As she brought up each one, I walked her through my grade sheets that showed not low scores but a failure to turn in work—a lack of responsibility. I showed her my tutoring logs, my letters to parents, only to be interrogated further.
Eventually, the meeting came down to two quotes that I will forever remember as the defining slogans for public education: “They are not allowed to fail.” “If they have D’s or F’s, there is something that you are not doing for them.” What am I not doing for them? I suppose I was not giving them the answers. I was not physically picking up their hands to write for them. I was not following them home each night to make sure they did their work on time. I was not excusing their lack of discipline…Teachers are held to impossible standards, and students are accountable for hardly any part of their own education and are incapable of failing.”

Friedman also cited a letter from an Oregon educator. This time the writer noted that he had gone back and looked at tests he gave in 1992. They were tough and today few of his students could pass them. He notes—and Friedman seems surprised—that today you might get only 8 or 10 homework assignments turned in by a class of 35.

Let me scratch my head for a moment. I know teachers are supposed to be dumb. (Only Teach for America can save us!) But I can’t recall ever being called on the carpet by any parent or administrator because my class was too easy.

By contrast, I once had 36 students in my seventh grade American history classes fail a map test. I told all of them they’d have to stay after school the next afternoon and study for an hour. If they couldn’t make it I gave out my home phone number and told them parents should call. All showed up as required and reviewed for the test.

At the end of that hour, when all my kids headed home, my principal called me down to the office to thank me…Ha, ha, no!

He grilled me. Had I given a day’s notice so everyone would have rides home? “Yes,” I said. I mentioned that I had also provided my home number. “Do you think students are benefitting from staying so late?” he continued unfazed. “Won’t they be too tired after a long day?” It turned out a mother had complained because her daughter hadn’t said where she was going to be after school. So, mom ended up sitting in the parking lot waiting for the girl to appear. And this was back in 1978.

What Friedman, by way of Duncan, by way of Ripley, discovered is not new. My principal in the late 70s was fond of intoning, “If a student fails, a teacher fails.”

I always wanted to respond:  “If a teacher fails, does the principal fail?” But I didn’t think he’d appreciate my sterling wit.

I stood my ground that afternoon—and the next day stayed again—to re-administer the test. This time, one girl was missing. But 35 ordinary kids retook the test. All I did was switch numbers on the map and the matching choices around. Otherwise, it was the same test.

I never forgot the results as long as I taught: 24 “failures” had A’s the second time. There were 8 B’s, 2 C’s and a single D.

Not one child flunked after studying.

Now, here was Friedman last week—quoting Duncan—quoting Ripley. In a recent policy speech Duncan told his audience:
Amanda points a finger at you and me, as parents—not because we aren’t involved in school, but because too often, we are involved in the wrong way. Parents, she says, are happy to show up at sports events, video camera in hand, and they’ll come to school to protest a bad grade. But she writes, and I quote: “Parents did not tend to show up at schools demanding that their kids be assigned more challenging reading or that their kindergarteners learn math while they still loved numbers.”…To really help our kids, we have to do so much more as parents. We have to change expectations about how hard kids should work. And we have to work with teachers and leaders to create schools that demand more from our kids.

Ripley is a fine writer. But Ripley never taught. So she was stunned when she put together her book. And Duncan was stunned when he read it. And Friedman was stunned because he only writes editorials about education. Neither he nor Duncan ever stood in front of a class of 35 and asked for homework to be passed forward.

They have no idea what it can be like to see only a handful of papers coming up the rows. 

Let’s imagine that they had. I loved teaching and loved working with teens. But if Duncan and Friedman had been manning rooms down the hall they might not be shocked to hear that sometimes students don’t turn in work when they should. Or: they don’t study when they could. Then they’d realize that’s not really the fault of the teacher. They would know what every real teacher I ever met knows.

They would know that parents and administrators often complain, and complain vociferously, if a teacher grades hard and upholds high standards.

You can go back farther back into history to understand what might be wrong in American education today. If you want your child to get an excellent education keep in mind what Thucydides once said:

Not much is ever gained simply by wishing for it.
(c. 411 B. C.)

Even the ancient Greeks probably had trouble getting children to turn in homework.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Big Money in College Sports Means Bad News for Student Athletes

Last week the University of North Carolina routed the University of Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, 39-17. Meanwhile, Tar Heel players should have received t-shirts reading, “I play footbawl for UNC. And all I got was a lousy B+ on a term paper I didn’t write for a class I didn’t attend. Plus this t-shirt!”

Evidence continues to pile up to prove that college sports have been totally corrupted by money. Now an investigation into bogus classes at UNC has led to indictment of a professor at that school. This week Julius Nyang’oro, head of the African and Afro-American studies department, was charged with fraud.

His crime: accepting $12,000 to teach a class that never met.

Not rarely met.

Never once.

It will be bad enough if Nyang’oro turns out to be an enterprising crook. It will be worse by a factor of a hundred if the investigation spreads. And it looks like it will. The course in question was AFAM 280: Blacks in North Carolina. It was scheduled in the summer of 2011. Nineteen students enrolled. Eighteen were UNC football players. The other was a former player.

The problem wasn’t limited to just one course. An investigation revealed that there may have been 200 bogus classes. Some dated back to 1997. Most showed “little or no evidence of any instruction.” At least part of the time AFAM 280 was supposed to be meeting, Nyang’oro was traveling in Africa. When investigators turned over other academic rocks more bugs scampered for cover. Nearly half of all students enrolled in bogus classes were athletes. Evidence seemed to show there were at least 500 cases of unauthorized grade changes. Faculty signatures were routinely forged.

The Raleigh News & Observer explained:
Athletes—particularly those in the revenue-generating sports of football and men’s basketball—had a disproportionate presence in the classes, and correspondence from the tutoring program for athletes showed staff members there knew the classes didn’t meet and were not challenging. Among the athletes they helped place in the classes were academically challenged freshmen, records show.

The same paper noted earlier this month:
Nyang’oro, 59, of Durham, has never publicly spoken about the case. He resigned his department chairmanship in August 2011, shortly after UNC began an internal investigation into his classes. That was prompted after the News & Observer reported that a prominent football player…had received a B-plus in an upper-level class in the summer before he began his first full semester as a freshman. Nyang'oro had been listed as the instructor.
UNC’s investigation found that class, too, was among more than 50 African studies classes over the previous five years that showed little evidence of actually meeting. Nine of those classes were disavowed by the instructors listed as teaching them, and the investigation found evidence the handwriting on course documents didn't belong to them.
The evidence so far shows those enrolled were told to write a paper to turn in at the end of the semester, with little evidence it was actually read. But the grades were good to excellent, averaging better than a B-plus.

Who else knew about this scheme? Were coaches complicit? Did school officials look the other way? At least one former colleague insists Nyang’oro is a scapegoat. “But I am sure there were many people in the athletic department and elsewhere who were aware…the problem was institutional.”

Or, should we say: “The problem is financial.”

Big time college sports mean big time bucks. What do you do to ensure star athletes stay eligible? If you must sacrifice, sacrifice learning!

Walter Byers, a former NCAA director, has called this approach a modern “plantation mentality.” Sadly, most athletes enrolled in these courses were African American. (Three fake classes, for example, promised to teach students Swahili.) A select few can hope to go on and play pro sports. The rest are losers in a rigged game, where touchdowns are worth six, foul shots one, and learning zero.

The schools keep winning. The alumni are happy. The donations flow. The athletes get meaningless grades. Four or five years later, if lucky, they're handed a worthless diploma. They don’t learn about blacks in North Carolina. They don't learn about the history of slavery in that state. They don't study Jim Crow laws. They don't hear about the lives of share croppers. They don’t learn Swahili. They might as well have signed up for courses in Pig Latin.

Well, who cares! According to the News & Observer the football staff at UNC is well paid. Head coach Larry Fedora’s pay package was worth $2.13 million in 2012. Both schools in the Belk Bowl earned a minimum of $1.7 million. And let’s not forget the branding of the games themselves. Belk, Inc., a Southern department store chain, paid a hefty fee for naming rights. This year sponsorship of bowl games will bring in almost $100 million.

About $71 million will go to the athletes themselves. No. No. We’re totally kidding! That giant pile of cash will go to ESPN.

Let’s not forget the commercials, either. A thirty-second spot during the Vizio BCS Game will cost $1.15 million.

The money keeps rolling in. This season the Big Ten earns earn $46.7 million by sending seven teams to bowls. Even the games proliferate. There are thirty-five bowls this year. The Atlantic Coast Conference has teams in eleven. Auburn and Florida State, like UNC an ACC member, play for the championship January 6. Both earn payouts of $22 million.

Money talks. No. Money bellows.

At this point, we might as well stick advertisements on player jerseys and slap corporate logos on the sides of all the helmets! At halftime, senior student athletes could gather round a trash barrel at the fifty yard line. There they could burn their valueless diplomas.

As long as no one sets fire to a playbook, it’s unlikely many big time college coaches would actually care. University officials can simply look the other way. Business sponsors and rich boosters can sit back in glassed booths high above the field and talk business. Fans of winning teams can enjoy bragging rights for the next year.

Only the athletes get screwed.

Another UNC football story you might like:  Player plagiarizes report on chickens done by four 11-year-olds.